The Significance of Being Seen

After almost a year of grad school perhaps one might expect to feel like this:

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Sometimes, however, I swear the doctors are looking at me like this ::cough::Dr. Hong::cough::

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I suppose it goes with the territory.  Humility and feeling completely inadequate are better traits to have in a would-be medical professional than hubris and arrogance.  In the midst of raising teenagers, trying to keep my household running–and doing it very poorly I should add, I’m still riding the therapy train.

When I went to my regularly scheduled Tuesday appointment with the FNG, Jack, I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I really require this in my life anymore.  I’ve been at this now for over two years.  I feel okay.  I really do.  I’m nowhere near where I was when I started in 2015.  My life is completely different now.  I’m different.”  So, I walked into his office open to talking but unsure of where to begin.  He is new.  My former therapist is gone, and I miss him.  He knew my history.  All the stories of my family of origin.  It feels exhausting to try to catch Jack up on all that shit.  I sighed internally.  Maybe I don’t need to!

I sat on the couch and stared back at him.  He’s using that approach with me.  You know the one.  They just stare at you, waiting for you to begin blathering on about something.  It is unnerving.  So, I told him that I didn’t know where to begin, and he responded:

“How do you feel about how our sessions are going?”

I answered honestly.

“Well, it’s hard to say because you don’t know my history.  When I say, for example, that my mother sent me a letter, you don’t know what it means.  People who know my history know what that means.”

“Did your mother send you a letter?” he asked.

“Yes, she did, and it means a lot.  My mother is a dangerous person, and I’m not sure how to begin to describe that, but I’ll give you a sense.”

I presented “postcard” views into my experiences with my mother.  Scenes that would capture her best and worst selves.  The utter terror and absurdity of her personality and emotional expressions.  The betrayals.  The abuse.  The distortion campaigns.  The violence.  The gaslighting.  The moments of lucidity.  He responded:

“What you describe is in line with borderline pathology.”

“I know.”

“She sounds fragile,” he observed.

“She can be, yes.”

“She also sounds like she has a lot of rage.”

“Talionic rage, and yet no one in the family believes me.  She is like this behind closed doors.  She presents very differently to the outside world.  But, go home and shut the door? She can become homicidal if triggered.” I said.

I then moved onto my father.

“Look, I don’t even know where to start with him.  I know that you know some things about him because you confabbed with my former therapist during my transition, but I think I’ll tell you this.  Aside from the obvious offenses like his sexual abuse of me during my preverbal years and his preference for military-like violence and torture, he did something else that I think neatly represents his psychology.

He had a book.  A kind of photo album of pictures of me from infancy to childhood.  Photos he took.  Photos of me crying after he had abused me.  Like a set of trophies.  Some of the photos I remember him taking, and I remember what he had done before he took the photos; and I know that he had this album because I found it when I was visiting him.  I was young.  I took it out and looked through it, and I felt very confused when I looked through it.  I brought it to him and asked him what it was.  My father was a steely, cold man.  I had never seen him lose that composed veneer–until that moment.  He looked angry when I brought that to him, and I felt scared seeing him look like that.  Scared because his response was not predictable.”

Jack is not a high affect man.  I, on the other hand, express myself like a Muppet.  I struggle sometimes when I am faced with low affect expression because it is so opposite to my mode of expression.  This is, therefore, the time when words matter.  He leaned in and said:

“This is positively evil.”

I never characterized the album or my father as evil before.  I just thought that there was something deeply wrong with him.  Oddly, I never characterized him as anything.  Evil.  Huh.

Jack went on to tell me that he had spent time in his post-doc research studying psychopathy and psychopaths.  It is hard to describe how relieved I felt.  I grew up with a psychopath.  I knew that for sure.  I was abducted by a psychopath.  That was a certainty.

“So, you’ve seen some bad shit then?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’ve seen some bad shit. I’ve studied it.  I can take it,” he said, looking into me.

I started to feel better about disclosing, and that brought some relief.

The thing about all this is that I’ve disclosed all this before.  There was nothing new about any of this.  Did I need to do this all over again? It could simply be re-traumatizing.  In the middle of my rumination, Jack leveled a question at me:

“Who knows you? What is it like to have had these kinds of life experiences and be who you are? You’re not sadistic.  You’re not cruel.  You don’t even express borderline traits.  You’re not even that angry.  So, to carry all this personal history with you–all this personal contact with, frankly, evil, who gets to know that about you?”

I must have looked like a deer caught in a meadow in the dark of night while a hunter aimed his spotlight at my face.  He landed on something, and I was completely caught off guard.  I stumbled.

“Who knows me?” I asked trying to buy time.

“Yes, who gets to know you? Who knows all this about you? Who do you tell your stuff to? And who gets to share this pain with you? No one can go through life carrying all this by themselves.”

I started laughing.  Tears were starting to stream down my face, but all I could do was laugh.  The question was legitimate, but I just couldn’t fathom the idea of sharing all that shit with people.  It was laughable.  I felt like I was about to cross over into some kind of mania.  Can you relate to this? For anyone who has ever seen some serious shit in life, can you imagine sitting around with people or even one person and trotting out some of your worst pain? What do you think would happen based upon your past experiences with people? Awkward coughs and stares? Quick subject changes? Being treated differently? Stigma? Judgment? A game of The Trauma Olympics (“You think your pain is bad? Well, at least you don’t struggle like I do!”)? The idea seemed impossible to me.

My mother losing it and punching holes in walls or ruining family holiday parties is one thing.  The kind of violence and abuse that characterized the relationship I had with my father is simply too personal and shocking as was what I experienced in the trafficking environment not to mention that it could very well cause secondary trauma.  The people hearing it could be adversely affected.  The people I include in that very intimate circle matter.  Boundaries matter–for both sides.

And, I think that these reasons are why people who have experienced profound trauma struggle alone and don’t often know how to change it.  The result of this is an ontological feeling of desolation that comes and goes–for me anyway.  A deep and hidden fear that one will never be truly known.  I felt this keenly when my mother’s second husband died.  He was a witness to my mother’s most violent cycles of abuse and rage.  He knew her when she struggled the most, and he understood the consequences in a way that few did.  He knew where I came from.  When he died, I felt a grief I never expected.  I heard a thought drift through my mind, “There is no one left in the world who knows me.”  I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now.  There is no one in the world, aside from my stepsisters, who were witnesses to that nightmare.  We know each other’s histories, and there is great validation in that knowing.

In being seen.

I think, therefore, that what Jack was really asking me is, “Who sees you?”

Who sees you and loves you after having seen you?

Whoa.  That gets me.  I don’t even like that question.  This is a question about belonging and significance.  And vulnerability.  So, I’m going to let the queen of vulnerability and belonging provide some kind of round-about answer:

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.  True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” Brené Brown, “Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone”

This is where I was after my session with Jack.  Well, this is what therapeutic hubris will get you–a realization that I really do need more time in the Hot Seat.

This is the work of a lifetime.  I’m all in.

I highly recommend Brené’s new book.  It is so timely for so many people struggling with existential questions of belonging, vulnerability, and finding their place in a world divided.

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8 thoughts on “The Significance of Being Seen

  1. These words are powerful. It was when I finally ended up with a therapist with many years treating trauma that someone knew and still respected me. She could still treat me as myself, not different because of what happened to me, and I wrote her a note: Thank you for seeing ME. It was the first time I felt that. Your post resonates.

    • It is a profound feeling that is almost foreign, I think, but so healing and necessary. We get to be ourselves and finally experience our truest selves and rewrite a better narrative. Finally…I’m grateful that it resonated. It helps me sense that I’m on the right track. Best to you…MJ

  2. Wow MJ for me the most amazing part is who you are and what you have become after what you been through. Sorry I am really out of my depth here but what you made out of the traumatic experience is very inspirational and moving.
    Thanks for sharing. Jack after all is not that bad, eh?

  3. Hi MJ, I agree totally with Seadi. You are…absolutely amazing! To live through all that and be the person you are today is stunning (and I know you’re only scratching the surface here). Your strength is truly inspirational. Thank you so much for this blog. When I’m low, you bring me right back up. You’re my hero! X

    • OMG…well, that is just such a wonderfully kind thing to say, Julie. Truly. I don’t feel well today at all (3 vaccinations I had to have for work at my school and clinic), and I feel so encouraged. Thank you. Really. xo

  4. Hello MJ. I was partly browsing through posts here on WordPress when I came across this post from you. I am so so sorry to hear about what you are going through. I understand how all of this must feel. I am sorry dear. I sincerely hope that this whole situation gets better. I would agree with your therapist. You are indeed strong for going through all of this and not allowing the negative nature of the situation ruin your positive vibes. If you need someone to talk to, someone who truly understands you and cares for you, you should talk to God. God is not only a listener, he has the power to help you. God truly cares for you and now would be a great time to talk to him. He is helpful and he is always looking to help us.

    The Bible says in Philippians 4:6
    “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”

    God says in Isaiah 41:10
    “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
    I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand”

    I do not know whether you have a relationship with God or not. If you already have a good relationship with God, congratulations, you are on the right path. You do not need to read this comment any further. Chances are high that if you have a relationship with God, you probably already know everything that I am about to tell you. I would say this, keep praying, keep obeying him, and keep trusting in him, and he would come through for you. However, if you do not yet have a relationship with God, you are in luck, here are some exciting details about God that you need to know:

    You may have heard that God is the creator of the universe and everything within it. This claim is 100% true. God did create everything in the universe, including us humans. Like a good father loves his children, God loves each and every one of us dearly. He likes to provide for us, to bless us, and to help us. His intention is to provide for us in this life and to also grant us eternal life. Eternal life is the life after this life that we are currently living, you can simply call it the after-life. Eternal life would last forever. Not everybody would gain access into the eternal life. Since that life would last forever and in it people would not die, it would not make sense to allow in violent people, liars, thieves and others. Since these people would not die, there would be no end to the problems that they would cause. Therefore, only the purest people are allowed in. We humans cannot be pure by ourselves. We are prone to envy, lying, cheating others and so much more. We learn to do these bad things from such a young age, by the time we reach adulthood, we are already too far gone in it. For this reason, God sent his son Jesus to die for our sins. So that we can be easily redeemed and saved. The blood of Jesus has made us pure and worthy. After the death of Jesus, all we need to do is to believe in Jesus and obey the Word of God, and those are the core for gaining access into eternal life. Like I mentioned earlier, God loves to bless us, and he desires to give us everything that we need. However, because God exists in the spiritual realm and we exist in the physical realm, we need to learn to understand how God communicates and to build a relationship with him in order to understand him. Over the course of building a relationship with him, you would understand how he works and how to locate the blessings that he has sent to you both in this life and for the next.

    God does want us to gain eternal life, as a matter of fact, eternal life is one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind. Nevertheless, God cares about how we fare in this life. He does not want us to feel alone, unguided, troubled and sad. Like a good father, he wants to be there to guide us and help us.

    The Bible says in Psalm 46: 1
    “God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.

    I suggest that you build a relationship with God, I am sure that he can and he will help your situation.

    If you wish to build a solid relationship with God, I would include below a lengthy and detailed suggestion on how you can do so. However, I find that many people get scared at the length of the suggestions. I want to say this, it is a step by step process, do not feel the need to execute it all in one day. Go at a pace that works for you and trust the process. Some people also get the impression that I am judging them or trying to tell them how to act or how to be, No! I do not want it to come across that way, because that is not my intention, I am simply giving friendly suggestions. Some people also get the impression that i am trying to say that if they do not do everything on my suggestion list that they would be doomed. I am not trying to say this. Also bear in mind, that although my suggestions seem lengthy, they would quickly become second nature to you. If you struggle with any of the steps, you can ask God for assistance and he would it make it easier for you.

    If you are ready, here are my suggestions:

    1. Confession of faith: you need to find a quiet space. Imagine that Jesus is in front of you. Ask him for forgiveness of your past sins and the sins of your ancestors. Ask him to give you the strength to forgive those who have offended you. Honestly, I suggest that you forgive the people who have offended you, because whatever they did to you is now in the past, and upon a confession of Jesus as your Lord, you become a new creation. In addition, God commands that we need to forgive others, before he can forgive us. You can also get a deliverance before your confession of faith. Deliverance will rid you off any ungodly spirits that have taken residence in your body and mind. A pastor with a deliverance anointing should be able to help with this. There are also videos on YouTube, where pastors with a deliverance anointing pray directly for people through the videos. You just need to search “deliverance prayer” in the search bar to reach these videos. Now, you need to tell Jesus that you want him to come and be your lord and personal savior, and surrender to him. You need to know that Jesus died for you. He died on the cross so that you may have a chance at salvation. The minute you give your life to Jesus, you need to know that you can no longer live as you wish, you shall live according to the stipulations in the bible. Believe in your heart that Jesus was risen up from the dead by God, and confess with your mouth that he is the messiah and your personal savior.

    2. Prayers: ask Jesus to bless you with eternal life. Tell him to make a place for you in his heavenly abode. You need to understand that praying for heaven is the best prayer that you can ever pray. Life on earth is so short, you need to be worried about eternal life, which is so much longer. God knows that you need clothes, food, shelter etc. He is your creator and he knows your every need. The bible tells us to pray for eternal life and God would provide our other needs (i.e. clothes, shelter etc.) according to his riches. If there is something bothering you, tell God in prayer, commit it to him and ask him to do it for you. However, bear in mind that this life is temporary and so are the things in this life. When you are praying, the devil will try to disrupt your prayers by bringing sudden disturbances such as sudden phone calls or loud noises and evil thoughts. An example of an evil thought that the devil tries to use to stop people from praying is by bringing the thought that Jesus is not present and that they are simply wasting their time. Jesus is there with you when you pray. So pray like you mean it. Pray the same way you will if Jesus was right in front of you because he is. You need to understand how prayers work as well. You see, when you pray, God answers prayers. God usually has three answers to prayers Yes, Yes but Wait, and No. God has a reason for every answer that he gives. He loves you and he will make sure that everything works out well for you in the end. When you get a No from God, sometimes it is not because that thing is not good for you at that point in time, but it may be because God is trying to draw your attention to something that you are doing wrong in your life. When you get a No from God, you need to evaluate yourself, what is the motive of your prayer? is it pure? Is it Godly? Is there an area of sin in your life that you need to work on? When you reflect on these things and you find something in yourself lacking, try to fix it. When God says Yes to prayers and sends you his blessings, trust me, there are spiritual forces of the devil in high places that work against people so that their blessings from God would not reach them. You need to pray against these spiritual forces. Rebuke them by the power and the name of Jesus. This way, your blessings would be able to reach you. Lastly, some people pray lazy prayers. For example, someone might pray for a job, without actually applying to any. God does not reward laziness. When you are praying for something, you need to be putting some work in as well. God rewards hard-work and we ought to strive to be hardworking. God’s role is to direct, bless, and make your path clear. However, bear in mind that sometimes God answers even lazy prayers and gives us undeserved blessings, that shows you the power of his love. He would always be with you. You need to make sure that you are close to God in prayer. Do not cease to tell him about what you are struggling with. If you are struggling with sins of the flesh that you believe are hindering your spiritual growth, you need to make sure that you tell God. Make sure that you pray for an increment in faith. Faith is important, you need to have faith in God. When we pray, we need to have faith, God does not like it when we doubt his ability to provide us with what we want, he is mighty and nothing is impossible with him. When you are low in faith, pray to God for an increment in faith. Remember to pray for your family, your city, your country and the world in fact, no prayers are too big for God. Pray that unsaved people would be saved. Pray for your non-Christian family members, pray that they see the light and become saved. When you pray, make sure that you take care of sins. The bible says that we need to forgive others if we want our sins to be forgiven. Make sure you forgive others, ask for forgiveness of your sins first before praying. Sins can block your prayers from getting to God. Try to avoid sin, but pray for forgiveness of sins everyday, because sometimes, we are not aware of the sins that we are committing. When you get answers to your prayers, remember to thank God.

    3. The Bible: You need to make sure that you are reading the bible and that you are obeying it. I suggest you begin with the New Testament because the coming of Jesus changed many of the things that were practised before. However, bear in mind that the old testament is also important. You can find free bible apps on google play. You can also find free bibles online. The New Living Translation is an easy to read bible version. However, the most popular one is the King James Version.

    4. Hearing from God: Trust me, God would speak to you. He would speak to you through dreams. Through people, through situations, through the bible and so much more. You need to practice and perfect the art of hearing God’s voice. Dreams contain a lot of symbolism. When you possess an avid knowledge of what the bible says, you would understand the biblical meaning of all the symbols in your dreams. However, for now, you can search online bible dream dictionaries for the meaning of things you see in your dream. You also need to know that although there are general meanings for some symbols, some interpretations are based on context. Take context into account. God does communicate via dreams. Sometimes, you might be asking God for direction on something. Pay attention to the words all around you during this time i.e, the things people say, words you see when reading the bible etc. Sometimes you might even just turn on your TV and the TV anchor would say something that directly relates to what you are going through. Pay attention to these things. You would know it is God’s voice when whatever is said is not in contradiction to the bible and God’s nature. If it is in contradiction then it might just be something random that popped up. You can also hear God’s voice by meditating on him. You can do this by finding a quiet space, you can play some background Christian music if you want. During this time, close your eyes and focus on God. Do some praise and worship in your heart first, then invite Jesus to come to you. Ask a question and pay attention to any bible verses that are brought to your mind, inner voices that you hear, any general feelings etc. If what is said is in line with the bible, then it is probably God speaking. It might take several weeks before you begin to hear God via meditation. If you keep trying one method and it does not work, try another method, like paying attention to the words around you. As you practise the art of listening and hearing, God might give you the gift of seeing visions or the gift of hearing an inner voice, and take you to deeper depths of hearing.

    5. Fasting: fasting is an effective way to get God’s attention. Fasting is a way to spend time with him. You deprive yourself of food because what you seek for is more than food. There are different types of fasting, and you need to plan what works for you. There is the:

    A. Avoidance fasting: This is a fasting form where you avoid something that you cannot do without i.e. Coffee.

    B. Daniel’s fast: In this sort of fasting, you only eat fruit and vegetables and drink water. You do not eat anything cooked or anything other than fruits and vegetables.

    C. Water fast: In this sort of fasting, you do not eat anything, you only drink water. No food, just water.

    D. Total fast: In this sort of fasting, you do not eat or drink anything. You do not drink even water.

    Make sure that you work out what works for you. You can pray to God for directions on the timing of the fasting to follow. However, as a general time-frame, on fasting days, many Christians fast from 6am to 6pm. Many Christians also use those moments when they feel hungry/ feel cravings as prompts to pray. You need to have increased prayers during fasting periods.

    6. Temptations: When you believe in Jesus. Trust me, the devil sometimes would throw trials and tribulations into your life, the goal of this is to get you to denounce your faith. The goal is to frustrate you. You need to pray and fast when trials and tribulations strike. God would never leave you or forsake you. He would be with you and with God, you will overcome this if it ever happens.

    7. Spreading the gospel: Now that you know the truth, you are chosen. It is now your duty to share the truth in the bible with others. Make sure that you save people from falling prey to Satan’s tactics. You need to join the fight to depopulate the devil’s camp, while populating God’s kingdom. With spreading the gospel, do not feel the need to finish reading the whole bible before you begin. You can teach people the little you know.

    8. Read: There is a lot of material out there. There are ministers of God who have practised for about 40 years. These people have a lot of stories about their ministry. Some of them have the gift to heal others, others see visions, some of them hear God’s voice. Many of these people have written books about how they accomplished what they have accomplished, and how they got their gift. Buy these books and read them. If you do not have money, some of these ministers have shared their stories for free on YouTube, take advantage of that.

    9: Reform yourself: begin to watch Christian movies and listen to Christian music. Make sure that your thoughts, actions, and words are in obedience to the word of God. Make sure that you are not doing anything sinful in your thoughts, actions or words. Refine your world, the space around you, the things you see and hear, make it all about God. You can also join a community of bible believing Christians. However, I need to tell you that there is sectarianism in the religion. Do not pay attention to sectarianism, pay attention to the bible. The bible is your authority. If a church seems to have too much sectarianism issue going on, if they are more focused on promoting their denomination than promoting God and the word in his bible, you need to stop going there. Get a water baptism, and pray so that God would baptise you in the holy spirit.

    (I know I have written this list in the order of 1 to 9. It is crucial that you begin with Step 1. Prayers are something that you need to do constantly, so is bible study, hearing from God and reforming yourself. However, you can start small with fasting and spreading the gospel. You can start by preaching to your family members in the beginning phase of spreading the gospel, but you need to expand on these over time. I know this list seems long and all these seem deep, but trust me, you would blend into it so easily and it would become second nature to you. Pray to God to make all of these easy for you, and he will. The devil would try to trick you into believing that God’s standards are too high and that you would never overcome sin, when in actuality, you can. So therefore, pray to God and believe and he would help you overcome sin).

    If you ever backslide and fall back into sin again while trying to follow God’s word. You need to ask him to forgive you and try to get back on track. You should also ask him to strengthen you, so that you can have more strength in withstanding and blocking off sin. God would hear your prayer and he would send help according to his will.

    If you have any questions, feel free to let me know. If you need to talk, I am here for you. God bless you. Have a blessed day 🙂

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully. I have a very well-developed, personal, and life-long relationship with God. I grew up in two streams of faith due to parental divorce–orthodox Lutheran and Jewish. I am Jewish today.

      I had to go back and read this post because I didn’t remember the content. Many people will say in response to profound trauma, “Go to Jesus,” or “Talk to God,” or something like that, and I do understand why that is. Firstly, there is an idea therein that is true for the faithful. God or your representation of God is supposed to be a source comfort, and I have been consoled by the presence of God many times in my life. God’s faithful presence has gotten me through some profoundly dangerous moments by the skin of my teeth in times past, and I’m alive to speak of it. I am reliant on God as I understand him to be on a daily basis. That being said, profound trauma is also very isolating because there are few who seem to understand what it means to survive it. What does it mean to survive human trafficking? What does it mean to grow up with a war criminal who got a taste for sadism and murder? What does it mean to have endured sexual torture for days and carry that trauma not only in your mind but your body? What does it mean to live with the memories of being abducted and the terror of that experience alone? I have endured all of the aforementioned and spent the last 20 years of my life aggressively pursuing healing.

      And, what does it mean when God is silent during your most painful times of recovery, and you have no one in your life who can help you? There are no good answers here. This is where people come in because God works through people most often. Yes, I have encountered God through the miraculous and in the Deep perhaps more often than most people. He is ever real to me. But, there comes a time when we must do the hardest work of all–we must be with humans–the ones who frighten us the most. We must allow ourselves to be seen by a select few and try to trust them. We must forge relationships with people even though every instinct we have tells us that it is humans who are faulty, fallible, and utterly untrustworthy. Not God.

      So, as much as I agree with you on talking to God, it is here in the human realm where the final healing must take place. We must work out our injuries with Man because it is mankind who injured us in the first place. And it mankind we must talk to if we are ever going to be seen again and loved properly.

      I wish you all the best. Shabbat Shalom, MJ

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